02 February 2017

A tale of two tea planters: Claud Bald and F G Marsh

As a child, I knew that my maternal grandfather, F G ‘Fred’ Marsh, had been a tea planter in Darjeeling. I also knew more vaguely that my great-grandfather, Claud Bald, had ‘written the book on tea’.

Claud Bald: a tea pioneer
Claud Bald was born in Glasgow in 1853. He began tea planting on the Lohargur Tea Estate near Darjeeling in 1877 at the age of 24, the year following his father's death. In about 1881, he joined the Lebong Tea Company where he served as manager over the next 26 years.

David Bald, Claud's younger brother, is the first of the family to appear in Indian records. He died of cholera in Calcutta, on 3 April 1883 at the age of 24. He had been an assistant foreman at ‘Sindaria’ [which may be a misspelling of the town of Tindharia] in Darjeeling. I can't find what he did there but there was a tea plantation and a railway station there. Perhaps David had gone to India in the care of his older brother or perhaps he joined him there later. Both had training as engineers. Another younger brother Henry was in Darjeeling by 1887 and worked for the Government.

In October 1885 at the age of 32, Claud married 24-year-old Glaswegian lass Margaret Ker the elder daughter of religious parents. 

Why did Claud go to Darjeeling? He had arrived at a time of rapid growth for the tea industry. Between 1860 and 1864 the Darjeeling Tea Company established four gardens at Ging, Ambutia, Tukdah and Phoobsering and the Lebong Tea Company established tea gardens at Tukvar and Badamtam. Tea production from 1866 to 1874 had increased by 89%, from 1874-1885 to 56.8%, and from 1885 to 1895 by 22.4%. 1888 was the year India produced more tea than any other country.

In 1907, he became manager of the Tukvar Company’s estates, holding this position until his retirement in 1918 at the age of 65.

Fred Marsh arrives
Fred Marsh was born to English immigrants Henry and Mary Marsh in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1891. He arrived in India in 1912. His eldest sister Edith was already there with her husband, Percy Clark who was a Baptist missionary. Fred had also gone there to learn the local languages ahead of possibly becoming a missionary himself. Fred’s objective changed, however. He met the respectable Claud…and he also met Claud’s eldest daughter Margaret.

‘Marsh’, as Claud called the young Fred, became Claud’s assistant manager in 1913 managing Simla, a small estate. While he was there he married Margaret in December 1917. 

Claud was impressed with Fred and supported his successful bid to become manager at Phoobsering Tea Estate in April 1919. Later that year, Claud left Darjeeling to spend his retirement in Worthing. Tea had been Claud’s life and his book Indian tea: its culture and manufacture, first published in 1903, was revised three times during his life. He died in 1924.

Fred, along with most tea plantation managers, including his father-in-law, joined the Northern Bengal Mounted Rifles (NBMR). Fred joined a few days after the declaration of World War I.

Fred’s time at Phoobsering
On 15 January 1934, a severe earthquake opened up the ground under the 70-year-old Phoobsering house. Fred decided to design a new ‘earthquake proof’ house. Under the house were six concrete rollers and the house itself was a concrete block. The theory was that in an earthquake, the house could ‘shake, rattle and roll’ but not break. The house has since survived a number of strong earthquakes.

When World War II began, Fred and Margaret decided it was safest to leave their daughters with his brother Frank who lived in Melbourne. They then returned to India to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort and tea production continued to increase strongly. Fred and other NBMR members were involved in moving food supplies between Burma and India and facilitating logistics for some British and Australian troops though the details are not yet known.

In 1947, Fred decided that he was coming back to Australia. The ‘communists’ as Fred called them, had stormed many tea factories. Every window in the Phoobsering house was broken. Fred felt they had no choice but to leave the country although their original plan was to remain there even past retirement.

Fred and Margaret Marsh arrived in Melbourne from India in July 1947 where they lived for the remainder of their lives. As a widower, Fred visited Darjeeling and Bhutan in about 1967 after working for 10 years with an insurance company. He died in 1979 at the age of 88.

Claud entertains a few guests at Tukvar Tea Estate in 1914
Claud Bald (centre with beard) at Tukvar in 1914. His wife Margaret is seated in front of him. Their daughter 'Evelyn' (my grandmother) is on the left next to the cleric. 
The troops are members of the Northern Bengal Mounted Rifles which Claud had been a member of as a tea young planter.

More details and pictures are at the Koi Hai site.


  1. Thanks for referring this to me. Very interesting to read the history of your family. I am still wondering where my Dominy family fits in at Tukra. Since we last communicated I have found and met up with more family members - they have more and different photos of the Tukra Tea Estate. I feel sure the man at second right is a family member. Maybe William Erasmus Dominy.

    1. I think he's definitely a Dominy. George H Dominy was assistant manager at Tukvar and later manager when Claud Bald retired in 1918, do you think could be him?

    2. I have looked at this photo so often since you first sent it to me. I really think the man is William Erasmus and my grandmother Jane’s father Harry Dominy. He looks so much like the younger photos we have of him. The year is 1914 though and he would be 63 years old. I have other photos of two of the men standing with him. Can’t attach photos here it seems.

  2. I've re-checked the 1915 edition of Thacker's Directory for the Tukvar listing. It shows the manager Claud Bald (my great grandfather) and his assistants W E Dominy and F G Marsh (my grandfather). This and your comparisons of the photos confirms I think that it is William Erasmus Dominy in the picture. George H Dominy was at a different Tukvar estate - something for another item. Perhaps I could include your photos on that one if that's OK.

  3. Sure. No problem. I have two letters written by him to his family in Devon in 1896 soon after he arrived in India. He was working on the Vah Tukvar tea estate. Was this estate part of the Tukvah tea estate?

  4. When I say ‘he was working’ I meant George not William.

  5. Hi Sonam,
    Thanks for your note. Ging, Phoobsering, Ambutia and Tukdah were all managed by the same company (and as you know all adjacent) when my grandfather was there and the managers and assistant managers all knew one another. My aunt Margaret was born at Ging in 1919 so her parents must have been there at that time. Phoobsering was one of the oldest tea estates in the area and the original house dated from the 1860s. The estate was named after the man who was its first ‘Sardar’, Phoob Tshering, but I haven’t found anything more about him and why he was remembered in this way. Cheers - Leon

  6. Quite interesting story of your gg grand father Claud Bald.I have seen his hand written document dated 1904.
    It was with a antique collector.I am interested about Darjeeling pioneers.
    If you have more old pictures of Darjeeling in your family album please do share.

  7. Thanks Faiyaz, glad you found it interesting. Did you happen to get a copy of the 1904 document? It would be interesting to see. I have some more pictures from those days and will put them up on this site as I work out the context for each. Cheers - Leon

  8. Hi Leon,
    As per my readings and findings Claud Bald was not only a pioneer of tea.He was involved in development of roads,planting trees etc.
    I have sent you one photo dating back to 1898 where C.Bald Esquire is present in a meeting at Darjeeling Road Cess Committee.

    1. Thanks Faiyaz. Great find. I've sent some comments and would be interested to see more.

  9. Yes in 1904 he was manager at Tukvar Division . Lebong Tea Company.And again in 1904 he was at Badamtam Tea Estate.I saw his hand written statements.
    Hope all is well with you there at home.Please share your pics of Mr Claus.

    1. Thanks for your comment Faiyaz. All good here though the winter is settling in. I'll put some more pix up with a bit of commentary soon.

  10. Hi Leon, was great to read this blog post about your grandfather and his time in Darjeeling. I am from Assam, and a tea planter's son - I have worked in the plantations in India as well. I live in Montmorency, close to Warrandyte, where I believe you also live. It would be great to connect and have a chat over a cup of tea or coffee. Cheers, Boroon

    1. Hi Boroon, just to complete the circle. It was great to catch up yesterday and chat about tea. Very pleased with the podcast and hope it gets lots of views and Rujani Tea goes from strength tor strength! Cheers - Leon

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